Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

"How will cannabis legalization affect alcohol consumption?"

UntitledThe question in the title of this post is the headline of this notable new commentary authored by Beau Kilmer and Rosanna Smart.  Like many thoughtful commentaries in this arena, the authored highlight that a seemingly simple question does not have a simple answer.  Here are excerpts:

How will legalization affect alcohol consumption?  Will drinking go down because people substitute cannabis for alcohol, or will drinking go up because cannabis and alcohol complement each other?  These questions have important implications for the health consequences of legalization, and for tax revenues.  Unfortunately, we don’t have the answers, yet.

A 2015 RAND Corporation study about cannabis legalization for the state of Vermont concluded that the evidence was mixed about whether cannabis and alcohol were substitutes or complemented each other.  A 2016 University of Washington literature review about changing cannabis polices and alcohol use concluded the relationship was complex.

Much research has relied on evidence of how laws that increase access to medical cannabis affect alcohol use.  The findings are mixed, possibly because the studies examine different age groups, measures of alcohol consumption and time periods.  The alcohol-cannabis relationship may differ across population subgroups — teens may treat these substances differently than adults. Also, some studies consider only effects on whether people drink, but not effects on how often or how much they drink.

Different studies also examine different time periods, and the laws have been changing over time.  Early state laws (such as the medical cannabis legislation California passed in 1996) tend to allow broader qualifying patient conditions, legal home cultivation and less oversight of dispensaries.  Differences in policies may lead to different effects on cannabis use, and possibly alcohol use. And the laws’ impact may evolve over time as the market expands or as federal enforcement shifts.

A recent working paper out of the University of Connecticut and Georgia State University has received a fair bit of attention as the latest in this series of attempts to shed light on the issue of whether alcohol and cannabis are substitutes or complements based on evidence from medical cannabis laws.  The authors examined changes in alcohol sales at grocery and convenience stores and other outlets.  They found that cannabis and alcohol are strong substitutes, with medical cannabis implementation being associated with a 15 percent reduction in monthly alcohol sales.

That is a surprisingly large effect, equivalent to what we would predict if the price of alcohol increased on the order of 30 percent.  The effect seems especially large considering that during the study period of 2006 to 2015, the newer state medical cannabis programs that drive the main result were more restrictive and had low participation rates, typically involving less than 1 percent of the population.  Of course, these medical laws could have effects that reach beyond the registered patient population if they made it easier and cheaper for non-patients to access cannabis, or if the laws caused the public to change its attitudes about cannabis and alcohol use more broadly.  Much more needs to be learned about what’s driving the results in this working paper.

Even if a consensus developed about the effect of medical cannabis laws on alcohol use, it would be unwise to simply assume that the same relationship applies to legalizing cannabis sales and advertising for recreational purposes....

These questions about legalization and alcohol consumption will not be resolved anytime soon.  In the meantime, California’s policymakers are making decisions about whether to license stores and lounges, and if so, where and how many.  They would be wise to build flexibility into their regulatory systems and not lock into decisions they may regret as they gain more information.

February 13, 2018 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

Could a high-profile lawsuit help end federal marijuana prohibition?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this New York Times article headlined "Lawsuit Takes Aim at Trump Administration Marijuana Policy." As detailed below, this lawsuit was covered on this blog when first filed, and this press article is prompted by an upcoming hearing.  Here is part of the report (followed by a bit of commentary at the end):

On Wednesday, yet another courtroom battle promises to pull the White House into the legal spotlight as crucial arguments are heard in New York in a sweeping lawsuit that is challenging the administration’s marijuana policy by seeking to legalize pot under federal law.

When the suit was filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan in July, it appeared to be an intriguing, if limited, effort to help its five named plaintiffs — among them, a former professional football player with a business selling pot-based pain relievers and a 12-year-old girl who treats her chronic epilepsy with medical marijuana.  But the case was thrust into national relevance last month when Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued an order encouraging prosecutors to aggressively enforce the federal marijuana law, endangering the viability of the multibillion-dollar weed industry in states where it is legal.

In its 98-page complaint, the suit presents its case for legalization not only through a host of constitutional arguments, but also by way of a world-historical tour of marijuana use — from its first purported role 10,000 years ago in the production of Taiwanese pottery to the smoking habits of President Barack Obama in his younger days. It points out that the ancient Egyptians used the drug to treat eye sores and hemorrhoids, and Thomas Jefferson puffed it for his migraines. James Madison credited “sweet hemp” for giving him “insight to create a new and democratic nation,” the suit notes.

The suit also includes archival material quoting John Ehrlichman, an adviser to President Richard Nixon, saying that the early efforts to criminalize pot were a way to disrupt the hippies and the black community after the 1960s. The contention is bolstered by an affidavit from Roger J. Stone, Jr., a pro-pot Nixon-era operative and adviser to Mr. Trump....

The current legal action is a somewhat rare attempt to use civil claims to legalize weed and has offered some novel arguments as to why its classification has violated the constitutional rights of those who filed the suit.

The former football player, Marvin Washington, for instance, is contending that the Controlled Substances Act has impeded his ability to transact business in states where pot is legal in contravention of the Constitution’s commerce clause.  The girl with epilepsy, Alexis Bortell, has argued that the law illegally restricts her right to travel with her medicine in states where pot is not allowed or to places controlled by the federal government — including on airplanes. A third plaintiff, the Cannabis Cultural Association, a nonprofit group created to assist minorities in the marijuana industry, has alleged the law has been used for years to discriminate against them.

“It’s the first time a young child who needs lifesaving medicine has stood up to the government to be able to use it,” said Joseph A. Bondy, one of the lawyers who brought the suit. “It’s the first time that a group of young millennials of color has stood up to the government and said the marijuana law is wrong and has destroyed their communities.”

The suit has made another claim based on what amounts to government hypocrisy: It asks why the government has classified pot as a pernicious substance, when in 2003 the Department of Health and Human Services obtained a patent on compounds in the drug to protect against brain damage and then in 2015 the surgeon general under President Obama declared in public that pot has medical benefits.

Against these claims, lawyers for the government have argued that Congress decided nearly 50 years ago that pot should be a Schedule 1 drug, and if the plaintiffs don’t agree, they should try to change the law.  Their suit, the lawyers wrote in one of their filings, “is the latest in a long list of cases asserting constitutional challenges to marijuana regulation under the C.S.A. Those challenges have been uniformly rejected by the federal courts.”

No matter how the lawsuit ends, the judge who is considering the case, Alvin K. Hellerstein, is clearly taking it seriously.  At a hearing in September, Judge Hellerstein said he would give the matter his “prioritized attention,” setting it ahead of all of his other cases.

The hearing on Wednesday, scheduled to entertain arguments to dismiss the case, is likely to be marked by a whiff of drama as marijuana activists from across the country are expected to descend on the courtroom.  Mr. Bondy said he is also trying to arrange a live-stream of the proceeding so that young Alexis, unable to travel to New York, can watch it from her home in Colorado.

I am pleased to see the New York Times giving significant attention to this litigation, but I find it troublesome how the headline of the article wrongly suggests that the lawsuit goes after the "Trump Administration Marijuana Policy" when in fact the suit is assailing Congress's failure to move marijuana off Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.  (Notably, the lawsuit discussed here was filed when the Trump Administration policies on marijuana were unchanged from Obama Administration policies.)

Similarly, this article is off base when asserting that AG Jeff Sessions "issued an order encouraging prosecutors to aggressively enforce the federal marijuana law."  The AG did issue an order rescinding the Cole Memo last month, but that merely took away novel limits on federal prosecutors and did not come with any orders for "aggressive" enforcement of federal prohibition.  (If AG Sessions had ordered federal prosecutors to aggressively enforce federal marijuana law, there would be hundred of indictments being filed in dozens of state with operational recreational and medical marijuana marketplaces.)

The full complaint as originally filed in Washington, et.al v. Sessions, et.al, be found here.

Prior related posts:

February 13, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Noticing that some politicians are finally noticing that marijuana reform could be winning political issue

Download (8)Long-time readers know I have often posted articles and commentaries suggesting that politicians would be wise to see the potential to attract younger and independent voters by showing interest in marijuana reform.  This new Politico article suggest some folks running for Congress are finally getting this message.   The full headline of the lengthy piece highlights its themes: "These Red-State Democrats Think Legal Marijuana Can Help Them Win: With sky-high approval rates, pot is an issue challengers say will cure the Democratic malaise in Trump country."  Here are excerpts that everyone interested in the politics of marijuana reform should read in full:

Not so long ago — like maybe last cycle — a Democratic challenger in a state this conservative wouldn’t have been caught dead making an unqualified endorsement of a drug federal authorities still consider as dangerous as heroin by categorizing it as Schedule 1.  But attitudes about marijuana, not to mention state laws, have changed so quickly and so broadly across the country that Democrats even in deeply red states like Indiana not only don’t fear talking about the issue, they think it might be a key in 2018 to toppling Republican incumbents.  The numbers, they say, are on their side, not the side of the politicians who either duck the subject or endorse Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ apparent desire to return federal marijuana policy back to the “Just Say No” days of the Reagan administration.

In a 2016 poll of Indiana residents, approval for medical marijuana was at 73 percent.  In a state struggling, like so many others, with a massive opioid crisis, there’s been no sign that support for legalizing marijuana has waned. A 2012 survey from the Bowen Center of Public Affairs showed that 78 percent of Hoosiers supported taxing marijuana like alcohol and cigarettes, far above the 55 percent who supported then-governor Mike Pence — a sign that support for marijuana law reform in Indiana is no statistical blip.  In fact, according to [congressional candidate Dan] Canon, it has only gotten stronger, and not just in blue bubbles like Bloomington but in rural and suburban communities, too. That’s why, in December, Canon released a web video ad declaring his stance clearly, “Here’s one simple solution that’s long overdue: We need to legalize medical marijuana nationwide.” He even got some international press out of it.

Subsequently, his chief primary opponent, law school professor Liz Watson, instead of criticizing Canon’s position, posted a detailed pro-medical marijuana position on her website to eliminate any daylight between her and Canon on this issue. “In Southern Indiana, we are battling a raging opioid epidemic.  The last thing we need is for the federal government to punish people for turning to non-addictive alternatives to opioids,” she told POLITICO Magazine.  “We also do not need the federal government restricting study into the medical uses of marijuana.  Federal law currently categorizes marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic, along with heroin, while oxycodone is Schedule 2. That makes no sense.” Watson’s stance nearly guarantees that no matter who survives the primary to face Trey Hollingsworth in the general, the Democrat in the race will be on the record as in favor of medical marijuana.

The candidates of Indiana’s 9th are not alone in their desire to use marijuana as a rallying flag. House races in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, plus Senate races in Texas and Nevada all feature Democratic candidates who have taken strong stands in favor of changing the federal marijuana laws, and running against Republican incumbents who have not.

“There’s nationwide support for recreational marijuana, and support for medical marijuana is even higher than that,” Al Cross, the director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, told POLITICO Magazine.  According to Cross, there’s not much difference in the support for marijuana legalization in rural Southern states than in the Western blue states more commonly associated with marijuana.  “For some voters, marijuana could be a defining issue. We just don’t know how many that’s going to be yet.”...

It won’t be known for some months yet whether legalization has the power to take out sitting Republicans, but there’s no question that it is potent enough to change the complexion of primary races, at least in districts that have large college populations.

Take a look at what’s happening across the Ohio River from the Indiana 9th, in Kentucky’s 6th Congressional district, which includes both the University of Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky University.  The Democratic field to unseat the three-term Republican incumbent Andy Barr has developed into an interesting portrait of the current Democratic Party coalition: a black state senator, a female veteran, and a gay mayor.  State Senator Reggie Thomas, who represents a portion of Lexington in the Kentucky Senate, was first in the race to come out in favor of medical marijuana.  In a web video he states, “The evidence is clear. Medical marijuana helps those with chronic pain and other medical conditions.” In the same 60-second video, Thomas announced he was signing on as a co-sponsor of a medical marijuana bill in the state Senate.  Asked by POLITICO Magazine if there was a campaign strategy associated with his advocacy of medical marijuana in order to differentiate himself from his primary opponents, Thomas wouldn’t take the bait, saying only that, “it’s just the right thing to do.”...

There are few places where marijuana politics are more exciting than in West Virginia, thanks to state senator (and retired U.S. Army major) Richard Ojeda, who is currently a candidate for Congress in West Virginia’s 3rd with a position on medical marijuana that has given him strong statewide name recognition.  “Anyone with half a brain should know that marijuana should never be Schedule I,” Ojeda told POLITICO Magazine over the phone, sounding more like Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey than his own state’s Democratic senator, Joe Manchin.

Medical marijuana is as popular in West Virginia as Donald Trump. Nearly 68 percent of West Virginians voted for Trump in 2016, but after a year in office, the average of his 2017 approval rating according to the Gallup tracking poll has slid to 61 percent.  Conversely, West Virginia’s acceptance of medical marijuana has risen from 61 percent in early 2017 to 67 percent today, according to an Orion Strategies poll released last month.

Not merely an advocate for medical marijuana, Ojeda (pronounced oh-JEH-dah) criticizes the federal law that requires mandatory prison sentences for criminal marijuana cultivation: “One to five years? That’s garbage,” he told me. Instead, Ojeda, 47, believes that outlaw marijuana growers shouldn’t go to prison at all.  He thinks it should be a misdemeanor for a first offense, and that the harshest sentence for a repeat offender should be home confinement.  Those positions were once far outside the Democratic Party mainstream, but it’s difficult for Ojeda’s opponents to characterize him as a liberal who is soft on crime when he served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 2016, Ojeda ran for a West Virginia state Senate seat against a longtime incumbent Democrat and won the primary by 2,000 votes.  In his opening act as a freshman legislator, Ojeda sponsored a medical marijuana bill and quarterbacked it through both chambers, making West Virginia the 29th state to legalize it.  This was a stunning turn of events, even for marijuana advocacy groups, who had spent no money to support Ojeda’s effort. “There wasn’t a single penny spent, and we won,” Ojeda told POLITICO Magazine.  “We did it because I got up and started speaking about it. And then the phone lines [in the legislature] lit up because the people of West Virginia know.”...

These red-state Democrats have found strong footing on a position to the left of their party’s leadership in Washington, D.C., and it seems to be working for them. None of them seem shaken by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent announcement he would end the Obama administration’s hands-off approach to prosecuting marijuana crimes in states that had legalized it. Ojeda told POLITICO Magazine: “I think we are on the verge of eventually voting in favor of marijuana [at the national level],”

February 6, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Another good review of growing movement to eliminate past convictions with modern marijuana reforms

Legal Marijuana Oregon Measure 91This Washington Post piece, headlined "Cities, states work to clear marijuana convictions, calling it a states' rights issue," provides another useful account of the ever-growing movement to undue past marijuana convictions in conjunction with modern marijuana reforms. Here are excerpts:

When California voters passed a measure in 2016 that legalized cannabis and allowed for people to have their marijuana convictions wiped away or reduced, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan ordered her staff to immediately start scouring the city’s criminal records to find people who qualified.

As marijuana becomes legal in more states, some are allowing people to ask to have their old marijuana convictions expunged or reduced. It is, proponents say, a way to atone a war on drugs that disproportionately affected low-income and minority communities and to ensure that the criminal records people carry are not out of sync with current laws.

It also attempts to get to the root of a complex legal question: what happens when people have a conviction on their record for a crime that is no longer illegal? “If you’ve made a legislative determination that this is no longer criminal, why would you want to continue to have people feeling the ramifications of something that people going forward will no longer have to suffer?” said Jenny Roberts, an American University law professor.

At least nine states, including Colorado, Maryland and Oregon, have made it easier to have some marijuana charges sealed or thrown out completely. Recreational marijuana use is legal in some, but not all, of those states. Colorado last year approved a bill that allows people convicted of misdemeanor marijuana possession before Dec. 10, 2012, to petition to have their convictions sealed.

In Oregon, lawmakers stated that judges must take the current law -- which says that possessing and selling marijuana is legal -- into account when they consider whether or not to change a person’s criminal record. In Maryland, people convicted of marijuana possession can petition a court for expungment. “It really makes sense to not burden these people with a lifelong criminal record,” said Kate Bell, a lobbyist for the Marijuana Policy Project in Maryland.

In most places, people must specifically request to have their records expunged, a process that can be costly and time-consuming. Though the laws largely aimed to help low-income people, there is concern that the petitioning process makes it more difficult, and therefore less likely, that they will move to have their records changed.

On Wednesday, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón announced that his office will clear all marijuana misdemeanor convictions dating to 1975 and review all felony convictions to see if they are eligible for a reduction. “California voters have clearly sent a message,” he said. “The war on drugs has been a failure, and more specifically, the war on marijuana has been a failure.“...

Gascón said he made the decision to automatically clear records so people “will not have to jump through hoops to get relief.” He estimates that about 3,000 people will be eligible to have their convictions vacated and about 5,000 will be eligible to have their cases reviewed for possible reduction. Prosecutors can decide not to support a reduction should a person have a major felony, such as murder, on their record. Old convictions will be reclassified under the law as it reads now. For example, if someone had been convicted of possessing an ounce or less of marijuana, that conviction would be tossed out because that is now legal under California law.

California Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) introduced a bill that would require automatic expungment of records. “The role of government should be to ease burdens and expedite the operation of law — not create unneeded obstacles, barriers and delay,” Bonta said in a statement. “These individuals are legally entitled to expungement or reduction and a fresh start. It should be implemented without unnecessary delay or burden.”

Nevada assemblyman William McCurdy (D) introduced a bill that would allow people convicted of possessing less than an ounce of marijuana to have their records wiped clean; it was vetoed by Gov. Brian Sandoval (R). McCurdy said he would like to reintroduce the legislation in the state, where marijuana is now legal. “I’ve always been under the belief that if you made a mistake in the past and the law has changed, you should definitely benefit from the changing of that law,” he said. “There’s a lot of folks who are sitting behind bars for less than an ounce of marijuana, and that’s troubling.”

In San Diego, Stephan ordered attorneys to look at cases shortly after voters passed the ballot initiative in November 2016, when the expungement provisions took effect. Prosecutors first looked at people in prison, then at those who were recently convicted, recommending their cases to public defenders. They worked “backward, with the idea that persons that received their convictions more recently might be directly impacted in terms of their ability to look for jobs or have informal probation, housing benefits, military, other things,” she said.

About 680 people have had their convictions lessened, 55 of whom are currently behind bars, Stephan said. She believes there are about 5,000 people who are eligible to have their convictions changed. “Our hope is that they will take advantage of it and use it to reintegrate and enter society without the burden of having a felony conviction,” she said.

Most of the sentencing laws are tied to the legalization of marijuana, something that Kevin Sabet, the founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which opposes legalization, said shouldn’t be the case. “People deserve a second chance, and we shouldn’t penalize people for past convictions, but it shouldn’t take having to legalize -- and commercialize -- marijuana for that to happen,” he said. “This a false choice between legalization and criminalization.“

Some prior related posts:

February 3, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Two notably rosy new account of the state of marijuana reform circa 2018

180130115042-medical-marijuana-map-780x439Today I have seen two notable new articles making much of where marijuana reform stands as of January 2018.  CNN Money has this new article headlined "The U.S. legal marijuana industry is booming."  It starts this way:

It's 2018 and marijuana remains illegal in the United States.  But continued federal prohibition hasn't stopped the marijuana industry from growing like a very profitable weed.

Despite what could be considered an unfriendly administration in Washington D.C., nine states and the District of Columbia now allow for recreational marijuana use and 30 allow for medical use.  And more states are lining up to join the legalization wave.  Pot has become big business in the U.S.

The emerging industry took in nearly $9 billion in sales in 2017, according to Tom Adams, managing director of BDS Analytics, which tracks the cannabis industry.  Sales are equivalent to the entire snack bar industry, or to annual revenue from Pampers diapers.

That was before California opened its massive retail market in January.  The addition of the Golden State is huge for the industry and Adams estimates that national marijuana sales will rise to $11 billion in 2018, and to $21 billion in 2021.

The industry has also been creating jobs and opportunities.  There are 9,397 active licenses for marijuana businesses in the U.S., according to Ed Keating, chief data officer for Cannabiz Media, which tracks marijuana licenses.  This includes cultivators, manufacturers, retailers, dispensaries, distributors, deliverers and test labs.

More than 100,000 people are working around the cannabis plant and that number's going to grow, according to BDS Analytics.  The industry employed 121,000 people in 2017.  If marijuana continues its growth trajectory, the number of workers in that field could reach 292,000 by 2021, according to BDS Analytics.

And German Lopez at Vox has this new piece headlined "January was the biggest month yet for marijuana legalization, despite Trump’s new war on pot."  Here is how it starts:

January 2018 was the most important month yet for marijuana legalization.

Things looked rocky a few days into the month, when President Donald Trump’s Department of Justice, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, rescinded an Obama-era memo that protected states that had legalized marijuana from federal interference.  Because cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, the federal government can still crack down on pot even in states where it’s legal under state law for recreational purposes.

But the announcement came and went with little sign that the Justice Department will actually do much in its new war on marijuana.  The agency was unclear when reporters asked if the move will actually lead to more anti-marijuana prosecutions.  And in the aftermath, federal prosecutors across the country released statements that were either vague or indicated that they won’t lead to a new wave of anti-marijuana crackdowns in places where pot is legal under state law.

Meanwhile, California at the beginning of the month opened the world’s biggest legal market for recreational marijuana — following voters’ decision in 2016 to legalize pot for recreational purposes and allow sales of the drug.

Then, after Sessions announced his new marijuana policy, Vermont legislators, with the support of Republican Gov. Phil Scott, legalized marijuana for recreational use. The law won’t allow sales — only possession and growing.  But it’s a big move because Vermont is now the first state to have legalized marijuana through its legislature.

All of this adds up to a huge month for marijuana legalization.  If even a federal threat over marijuana legalization didn’t stop Vermont’s legalization momentum or slow down California’s massive new legal pot market, what, if anything, will stop more states from going down the same path?

January 31, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 29, 2018

"Marijuana: is it time to stop using a word with racist roots?"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Guardian commentary authored by Alex Halperin.  Here are excerpts:

It’s been known as dope, grass, herb, gage, tea, reefer, chronic. B ut the most familiar name for the dried buds of the cannabis plant, and one of the few older terms still in use today, is “marijuana”.

For the prohibitionists of nearly a century ago, the exotic-sounding word emphasized the drug’s foreignness to white Americans and appealed to the xenophobia of the time. As with other racist memes, a common refrain was that marijuana would lead to miscegenation.

Harry Anslinger, the bureaucrat who led the prohibition effort, is credited as saying back then: “There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.”

Today “cannabis” and “marijuana” are terms used more or less interchangeably in the industry, but a vocal contingent prefers the less historically fraught “cannabis”.  At a time of intense interest in past injustices, some say “marijuana” is a racist word that should fall out of use....

The word “marijuana” comes from Mexico, but its exact origins remain unknown.  According to the book Cannabis: A History by Martin Booth, it may derive from an Aztec language or soldiers’ slang for “brothel” – Maria y Juana....

As with other symbols of past oppression, from the pink triangle to the n-word, there’s a powerful tradition of marginalized communities redeploying symbols of their oppression.  It’s these communities – not businesses – who have the moral authority to decide if marijuana is a racist word which should be avoided or an important reminder of a more racist past.

January 29, 2018 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 26, 2018

Lamenting "marijuana apartheid" amidst modern marijuana reform movement

Bosnia-a-scuola-di-apartheidThe title of this post picks up on a provocative phrase in this provocative new commentary at The Intercept authored by Shaun King.  The piece is headlined ""Despite Liberalizing Marijuana Laws, the War on Drugs Still Targets People of Color, " and here are excerpts:

[New York] city’s leaders have openly bragged about the decriminalization of marijuana, but arrests for simple possession actually went up by 9 percent from 2015 to 2016, with 18,136 people arrested.  In a 2016 interview, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “We stopped the arrest for low-level marijuana possession.” But that’s simply not true: 96 percent of those arrested in New York were busted for low-level possession. Over 50 people a day are still being arrested for it in New York City alone.

Most of those arrests, predictably, are happening in communities of color. The new numbers for New York City’s 2017 marijuana arrests just came out and they hardly budged — arrests declined by about 1 percent, disappointing many advocates and attorneys who took the mayor’s word on this issue.

Democrats dominate in New York. In addition to its liberal mayor, 47 of 51 city council members are Democrats. New York can’t blame arresting 50 people a day for low-level marijuana possession on Sessions or Trump. Neither can most of America’s largest cities — where a huge percentage of these arrests go down — and where Democrats have ruled for decades. This disparity extends to places that have legalized weed — and not just medical marijuana. As far as arrests go, the legalization wave has mainly helped white people....

Then there is the economic justice side of things. Millions of African-Americans have gone to jail for marijuana possession and distribution; hundreds of thousands remain in jail at this very moment. And while African-Americans continue to pay an enormous price for marijuana prohibition, a legal weed economy is exploding. In California, the weed economy is worth about $7 billion, and it’s going to grow exponentially.

Who do you think owns these businesses? That’s right: The weed industry is dominated by white ownership. I recently picked up a magazine that was all about the marijuana industry. Not a single black or Latino face was in the entire magazine. That people of color are largely shut out of the legal cannabis industry, after paying the heaviest price for it, is the definition of white privilege.

We’ve seen this sort of exploitation many times. We celebrate, as we should, Jackie Robinson entering Major League Baseball. But when MLB “integrated,” it only integrated the teams, not the front offices or ownership groups. The integration of baseball then meant the destruction of the Negro League and every black-owned franchise that came with it. Generations later, not a single team in baseball is black-owned. The same is true for basketball. Even the Harlem Globetrotters is owned by white people.

What we have right now is a type of marijuana apartheid, a de facto policy of segregation on this issue, in which one lived reality exists for white America on weed and a completely different, more punitive and costly reality exists for African-Americans. Of course it’s unfair, but it damn sure is as American as apple pie. Even if we’ve already passed the bygone golden years of bipartisan cooperation on criminal justice reform, it’s time for Democrats to lead on this issue. But judging by the fact that Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., has just one single co-sponsor for his progressive legislation on the matter, it doesn’t look like Democrats have a real plan here. Do they ever?

January 26, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Drug Policy Alliance releases big new report: "From Prohibition to Progress: A Status Report on Marijuana Legalization"

Status-report-coverThe reform advocacy organization Drug Policy Alliance has released today this big new data-dense report headlined "From Prohibition to Progress: A Status Report on Marijuana Legalization; What We Know About Marijuana Legalization in Eight States and Washington, D.C." I am likely going to do a series of posts about this report and its details particulars, but I will begin here by just quoting the first part of its executive summary:

On November 6, 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first two states – and first two jurisdictions in the world – to legalize marijuana for adult use.  Two years later Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, D.C. followed suit.  In 2016 voters in four additional states – California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada – also approved ballot measures legalizing marijuana.  In January 2018, Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a state legislature.  More states are expected to legalize marijuana in the near future.

Evidence shows that marijuana legalization is working so far.  States are saving money and protecting the public by comprehensively regulating marijuana for adult use. This success has likely contributed to the historically high levels of public support for marijuana legalization in the U.S., which has steadily grown to an all-time high of 64 percent.  The majority of Americans, across party affiliations, support legalizing marijuana, with 51 percent of Republicans now in favor.

Arrests and court filings for the possession, cultivation and distribution of marijuana have plummeted since voters legalized marijuana for adult use in eight states and Washington, D.C.  These states have saved millions of dollars and prevented the criminalization of thousands of people. Marijuana legalization has a positive effect on public health and safety.  Nationally, and in states that have legalized marijuana, youth marijuana use has remained stable or declined.  Legal access to marijuana is associated with reductions in some of the most troubling harms associated with opioid use, including opioid overdose deaths and untreated opioid use disorders.  DUI arrests for driving under the influence, of alcohol and other drugs, have declined in Colorado and Washington, the first two states to establish legally regulated adult use marijuana markets.  In addition, crash rates in both states have remained similar to those in comparable states that have not legalized marijuana.

At the same time, states are filling their coffers with hundreds of millions of dollars in marijuana tax revenues.  These revenues are being allocated for social good – to fund education, school construction, early literacy, bullying prevention, behavioral health, and alcohol and drug treatment.  In addition, the legal marijuana industry is creating jobs; it currently employs approximately 200,000 full and part-time workers across the country.

January 23, 2018 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 22, 2018

Vermont now officially the ninth US state to legalize marijuana ... and the first to do so through traditional legislation

VermontAs reported in this AP piece, headlined "Vermont governor signs pot bill with 'mixed emotions'," a small state finalized some big marijuana reform news this afternoon. Here are the details:

Gov. Phil Scott on Monday privately signed Vermont's marijuana bill into law, making the state the first in the country to authorize the recreational use of the substance by an act of a state legislature. The law, which goes into effect July 1, allows adults to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana, two mature and four immature plants.

Vermont will become the ninth state in the country, along with Washington, D.C, to approve the recreational use of marijuana. The other states and Washington authorized the recreational use of marijuana through a vote of residents. Vermont law contains no mechanism that allows for a citizen referendum.

The Republican governor had until the end of the day Monday to sign the bill. His office issued a statement Monday afternoon saying he had signed the bill. "Today, with mixed emotions, I have signed" the bill he said. "I personally believe that what adults do behind closed doors and on private property is their choice, so long as it does not negatively impact the health and safety of others, especially children."

The law contains no mechanism for the taxation or sale of marijuana, although the Legislature is expected to develop such a system.

Vermont's move is an incremental reform that will have little impact for most people in the state, said Matt Simon, New England political director for the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project. "I think the vast majority of Vermonters won't notice any change at all," Simon said. "It's simply eliminating a fine and eliminating a penalty for growing a small number of plants."

The new law is unlikely to prompt people who don't now smoke marijuana to take it up, said Robert Sand, a Vermont law school professor and former county prosecutor who has advocated for years to change the state's drug laws. "Realistically anyone who wanted to try it has tried it," Sand said....

The Vermont Legislature passed a similar proposal last spring, but Scott vetoed it, citing practical concerns. Lawmakers revised the proposal to do more to protect children and enhance highway safety. The revised bill passed both chambers this month.

Recreational use of marijuana already has passed in Maine and Massachusetts, and both states are awaiting the implementation of systems to tax and regulate marijuana. New Hampshire's House gave preliminary approval to a bill earlier this month that would allow adults to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and to cultivate it in limited quantities, even though a commission studying the issue won't finish its work until next fall.

Scott said last week he was declining to hold a bill signing ceremony because "some people don't feel that this is a momentous occasion."

January 22, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 11, 2018

"Study: Legal marijuana could generate more than $132 billion in federal tax revenue and 1 million jobs"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new piece in the Washington Post.  Here is how it gets started:

Legalizing marijuana nationwide would create at least $132 billion in tax revenue and more than a million new jobs across the United States in the next decade, according to a new study.

New Frontier Data, a data analytics firm focused on the cannabis industry, forecasts that if legalized on the federal level, the marijuana industry could create an entirely new tax revenue stream for the government, generating millions of dollars in sales tax and payroll deductions. “When there are budget deficits and the like, everybody wants to know where is there an additional revenue stream, and one of the most logical places is to go after cannabis and cannabis taxes,” said Beau Whitney, a senior economist at New Frontier Data.

The analysis shows that if marijuana were fully legal in all 50 states, it would create at least a combined $131.8 billion in in federal tax revenue between 2017 and 2025. That is based on an estimated 15 percent retail sales tax, payroll tax deductions and business tax revenue.

The federal government would reap $51.7 billion in sales tax from a legal marijuana market between 2017 and 2025, entirely new revenue for a business that remains illegal -- and unable to be taxed -- federally. The business tax rate for the study was calculated at 35 percent. The corporate tax rate was lowered to 21 percent in a sweeping tax bill President Trump signed last month.

“If cannabis businesses were legalized tomorrow and taxed as normal businesses with a standard 35 percent tax rate, cannabis businesses would infuse the U.S. economy with an additional $12.6 billion this year,” said Giadha Aguirre De Carcer, the CEO of New Frontier.

The study also calculates that there would be 782,000 additional jobs nationwide if cannabis were legalized today, a number that would increase to 1.1 million by 2025. That includes workers at all ends of the marijuana supply chain, from farmers to transporters to sellers. The study estimates that about 25 percent of the marijuana market will continue to be illicit, and will shrink if the legal marketplace is not overly taxed or expensive.

January 11, 2018 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Vermont legislature brings state to cusp of being first to legalize marijuana through standard legislation

As reported in this AP article, "the Vermont Senate gave final approval Wednesday to a bill that would allow the recreational use of marijuana, putting Vermont on course to become the first state in the country to legalize pot via legislative act rather than through a citizen referendum." Here is more:

By voice vote, the Senate agreed to the proposal that would make it legal for adults to possess and grow small amounts of marijuana but does not set up a system to tax and regulate the production and sale of the drug.  The state House approved the bill last week, and Gov. Phil Scott has indicated he would sign it....

The bill would allow adults older than 21 to possess of up to 1 ounce of marijuana and have two mature marijuana plants or four immature plants in each dwelling unit no matter how many people live there.  State senators who voted against the legislation did not ask for a roll call. The law would take effect July 1.

GOP Sen. Randy Brock of Franklin, Vt., who recently was appointed to fill a vacancy, said he voted against the bill after hearing opposition from educators, medical professionals, law enforcement officials and his constituents. He also was concerned that legalization would conflict with federal law.  "This is a federal question," Brock said. "It needs to be decided federally."

If Scott signs the bill, Vermont will join eight states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon, Nevada, Washington — and the District of Columbia where possession of small amounts of marijuana are legal for recreational use.

In spring 2016, Vermont's Legislature passed a similar bill, but Scott vetoed it because the Republican thought it didn't do enough to protect children from marijuana and ensure highway safety.  Lawmakers changed the proposal to address the governor's concerns didn't have enough time to pass it during a short veto session in June.

While this bill does not contain a mechanism to tax and regulate marijuana, as some states do, lawmakers who favor legalization hope the bill will prompt the Legislature to do that later. The District of Columbia's pot initiative also does not have a mechanism for sales, regulation and taxation.  "I hope this step leads us to tax and regulate," said Vermont state Sen. Richard Sears, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

The expected based on developments last year, this is still very big and important news and arguably start yet another new chapter in the history of marijuana reform. Whether and how the state considers moving forward with a commercial sale regime or sits tight with just legalization is one of many interesting next questions for the state.

January 10, 2018 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 5, 2018

Pew reporting its latest marijuana poll numbers showing its highest support for full legalization

FT_16.10.11_marijuanaLegal_trendThis new posting from the Pew Research Center, headlined "About six-in-ten Americans support marijuana legalization," provides this accounting of the latest survey (done back in October) on public opinion on marijuana reform:

About six-in-ten Americans (61%) say the use of marijuana should be legalized, reflecting a steady increase over the past decade, according to a Pew Research Center survey. The survey, conducted in October, finds that the share of U.S. adults who support marijuana legalization is little changed from about a year ago – when 57% favored it – but it is nearly double what it was in 2000 (31%).

As in the past, there are wide generational and partisan differences in views of marijuana legalization. Majorities of Millennials (70%), Gen Xers (66%) and Baby Boomers (56%) say the use of marijuana should be legal. Only among the Silent Generation does a greater share oppose (58%) than favor (35%) marijuana legalization.

Nearly seven-in-ten Democrats say marijuana use should be legal, as do 65% of independents. By contrast, just 43% of Republicans favor marijuana legalization, while 55% are opposed.

While both parties are divided along age lines in views of marijuana legalization, the differences are especially stark among Republicans.

Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, those younger than 40 favor legalizing marijuana use, 62% to 38%. Republicans ages 40 to 64 are divided (48% say it should be legal, 49% illegal), while those 65 and older oppose marijuana legalization by more than two-to-one (67% to 30%).

Sizable majorities of Democrats and Democratic leaners younger than 40 (79%) and 40 to 64 (70%) favor marijuana legalization. Older Democrats – those 65 and older – are more divided (50% favor legalization, 42% oppose it).

I have highlighted a few key demographic data points that strikes me as especially important politically now that Attorney General Sessions has rescinded the Cole Memo and essentially delegated federal enforcement priorities to individual US Attorneys. Any and every politician (or US Attorney) thinking about long-term political popularity must realize that young cohorts of voters in both parties are pretty strongly in favor of marijuana legalization. Acting as or even appearing supportive of any ardent foe of marijuana reform appears, based on this polling, carry some real political risks that seem likely to grow over time.

January 5, 2018 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 4, 2018

"Vermont Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill"

VermontThe title of this post is the headline of this Forbes article penned by Tom Angell reporting on a notable and historic marijuana reform development in a day full of notable and historic developments. Here are the details:

The Vermont House of Representatives voted on Thursday to legalize possession and home cultivation of marijuana. The move comes on the same day that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions moved to rescind Obama-era guidance that has generally allowed states to implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference.

Under the Vermont legislation, an earlier version of which passed the Senate last summer, commercial sales of cannabis would not be allowed. But if the proposal is enacted, as is expected, the state would become the first to legalize marijuana by an act of lawmakers. To date, all eight states that have ended cannabis prohibition have done so via voter initiatives.

Gov. Phil Scott (R) has promised to sign the bill into law after the Senate votes to approve the new language, expected next week.

Vermont fell just short of ending marijuana prohibition in 2017. Both legislative chambers approved a legalization proposal, but Scott vetoed it. However, the governor then laid out a few small revisions he wanted legislators to make in order to garner his signature. The Senate quickly acted to make the requested changes, but the House wasn’t able to overcome procedural hurdles to pass the revised bill in time during a short special session over the summer.

That left the House poised to approve the bill under regular order after reconvening for the year this week. The vote on Thursday was 81 to 63.

Representatives voted down several floor amendments, including proposals to delay consideration of the bill in light of news about the federal enforcement policy change. They also rejected an attempt by GOP House leader Don Turner to add legal cannabis sales to the bill. The move by Turner, a legalization opponent, was seen by advocates as an attempt to attach a poison pill to the legislation, because Scott would have been less likely to sign it into law as amended....

If the proposal is enacted, possession of up to one ounce of cannabis and home cultivation of two mature plants by adults over 21 years of age would be legal.

While the legislation initially included language creating a study commission to examine the possible future legalization of commercial marijuana sales, Scott created such a panel on his own by executive order during the interim. On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee amended the bill to remove the commission provisions, which is why it now requires one more vote in the Senate, where it is widely expected to pass.

January 4, 2018 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

New AG Sessions memo on "Marijuana Enforcement" says very little but still could mean a lot

This new Politico article has a link to this new one-page memo from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to all US Attorneys on the topic of "Marijuana Enforcement."  Notably, the memo does little more than rescind the Cole and Ogden and related memos put forth through the Obama Administration.  It does not announce any formal or even informal new policy, but just says general DOJ policies and principles for all federal prosecution should govern.

Here is more about what this means (or does not mean) via the Politico article:

Sessions said future prosecutions would be up to individual U.S. attorneys. However, the announcement appeared intended to discourage marijuana-related business by being deliberately vague about future federal enforcement efforts. The effort will likely further muddle the legal status of marijuana for states that have passed legislation allowing people to grow, buy or use pot.

"Given the Department's well-established general principles, previous nationwide guidance specific to marijuana enforcement is unnecessary and is rescinded, effective immediately," Sessions said in a one-page memo sent to federal prosecutors nationwide.

Justice Department officials who briefed reporters on the announcement declined to say whether the new policy was intended to increase federal prosecutions for marijuana-related crimes. “I can’t sit here and say whether it will or will not lead to more marijuana prosecutions,” said a senior DOJ official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We believe U.S. attorneys’ offices should be opened up to bring all of these cases that are necessary to be brought.”

Justice Department leaders said the Obama-era policies, most of them issued by Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole, made marijuana industry players too comfortable in a business that has always been illegal under federal law. “The Cole memo as interpreted created a safe harbor for the marijuana industry to operate in these states. There is a belief that that is inconsistent with what federal law says,” the official said.

When states stepped up legalization efforts under the Obama administration, Justice Department officials considered the possibility of filing litigation aiming to head off such moves, but ultimately chose not to do so and to accommodate the state laws. “Further steps are still under consideration,” the current official said.

California, which had allowed medical marijuana use for years, opened its dispensaries to the general public without prescriptions on Jan. 1. Justice Department officials said they were unaware of any link between the timing of Sessions’ announcement and the Golden State’s recent shift. “This is something that has been under consideration at the department for a long time,” the official told reporters. “I know of nothing that ties it directly to that.”

January 4, 2018 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 24, 2017

"At 'pot churches,' marijuana is the sacrament" ... and creating legal issues

Images (4)This prior post discussed holiday gifting of marijuana, and this article (which has a headline serving as part of the title of this post) provides another distinctive seasonable perspective on how modern marijuana reform echoes through various parts of modern life.  Here are highlights:

Services at the Coachella Valley Church begin and end with the Lord’s Prayer.  In between, there is the sacrament.  “Breathe deep and blow harder,” intoned Pastor Grant Atwell after distributing marijuana joints to 20 worshipers on a recent Sunday.  “Nail the insight down, whether you get it from marijuana or prayer. Consider what in your own life you are thankful for.”

A man wearing a “Jesus Loves You” baseball cap and toting a shofar, piped up. “Thank you, God, for the weed,” he called out. “I’m thankful for the spirit of cannabis,” a woman echoed from the back.  “I am grateful to be alive,” said another young woman, adding that she had recently overdosed — on what, she did not say — for the third time.   The small room, painted black and gold and decorated with crosses and Rastafarian symbols, filled with pungent smoke after an hour-long service of Christian prayers, self-help slogans and inspirational quotes led by Atwell, a Campbell, Calif., massage therapist and photographer.

Despite its mainstream Christian trappings, the Coachella Valley Church describes itself as a Rastafarian church, which is tough to define.  Originating in Jamaica and combining elements of Christianity, pan-Africanism and mysticism, Rastafari is a political and religious movement with no central authority.  Adherents use marijuana in their rituals.  The church’s leaders claim that religious freedom laws give them the right to offer marijuana to visitors without a doctor’s recommendation or abiding by regulations.  Some authorities beg to differ.

As more states ease access to marijuana, churches that offer pot as a sacrament are proliferating, competing with medical marijuana dispensaries and pot shops in the few states that have legalized recreational weed. While some claim Rastafari affiliation, others link themselves to Native American religious traditions.

The churches are vexing local officials, who say they’re simply dispensaries in disguise, skirting the rules that govern other marijuana providers, such as requirements to pay taxes.

In California, which legalized medical marijuana in 1996 and is preparing for sales of recreational marijuana to begin Jan. 1, churches tied to marijuana use have recently popped up in Oakland, Roseville, Modesto and San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles counties. A few have been shut down by law enforcement.  “I’m not going to say they’re not churches, but to the extent that they’re distributing marijuana, they’re an illegal dispensary, in my view,” said San Jose City Attorney Rick Doyle....

Nationally, such churches have opened in Indiana, where marijuana remains illegal, and Michigan, where medical marijuana is allowed.  Even in Colorado, which legalized pot in 2012, the “International Church of Cannabis” is testing the limits of state and city rules on consuming marijuana in public.  Marijuana churches typically require people to purchase a membership, then give or sell them marijuana and related products.  They may ask for ID such as a driver’s license but don’t require a doctor’s recommendation or medical marijuana identification card.

The churches rely on court rulings that made it possible for some groups, including Native Americans, to use federally banned drugs like peyote in religious ceremonies. Despite these rulings, courts have thus far rejected religious groups’ right to use marijuana, still illegal at the federal level, said Douglas Laycock, a University of Virginia Law School professor specializing in religious liberty issues.  Yet, he said, as more states legalize marijuana, courts may regard marijuana churches’ rights more favorably.

“Legalization changes everything,” Laycock said. “Religious use may not violate state law in some of these states. And if it does, legalizing recreational use but not religious use clearly discriminates against religion.”

December 24, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Religion, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 22, 2017

"Joy to the weed! Marijuana legalization comes bearing gifts"

Joy to the world printable four stylesThe title of this post is the headline of this AP article which provides an interesting review of ganja gifting goings-on this holiday season.  Here are excerpts:

Peter Bernard’s Yuletide plans include dressing up in a tuxedo emblazoned with marijuana leaves, donning a green Santa hat and doling out cookie bars made with marijuana to his friends from a big pillowcase. “That’s me exercising my right to give marijuana this Christmas,” said Bernard, a Taunton, Massachusetts, pot lover who heads the Massachusetts Growers Advocacy Council when not doubling as “Pot Santa” at events for weed enthusiasts.

Not everyone’s plans are quite so flamboyant, but for many pot lovers, this Christmas is much more about reefer than wreaths. Gift-giving has long been a part of marijuana culture, and the drug’s newly legal status is a source of Yuletide celebration in four states.

Voters in California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts voted to legalize recreational marijuana last year, and some residents of those states will legally stuff stockings with spliffs for the first time this Christmas. Because retail sales are operating in only one of those states — Nevada — Bernard and others excited about legalized pot said homegrown marijuana is one particularly popular gift.

“I figure, I’ve got all this pot, I might as well just give it away for Christmas,” said James MacWilliams, of Portland, Maine, who started growing weed when it became legal and is giving away fancy jars of his stash this year. “I told my friends, you’re all getting a little bit of pot for Christmas.”...

Statistics about legal sales of marijuana suggest a modest bump around the holidays. In the four states where it was already legal, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, it has been “generally a good month,” slightly ahead of November and January, said Roy Bingham, chief executive officer of BDS Analytics, a firm that compiles data about the pot industry. December sales accounted for 9.38 percent of sales revenue in Colorado last year, which is one percentage point above average, according to statistics provided by the firm....

Legalization means pot lovers can legally do something they’ve always done, which is give away marijuana to people they love, said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association. “People consume cannabis on the holidays and they always have,” Smith said. “Now they are doing so through a regulated system.”

The drug remains illegal on the federal level, which means activities such as driving it across state lines or sending it through the mail are off limits. An elderly couple was arrested near Bradshaw, Nebraska, on Tuesday with about 60 pounds of marijuana they described as future Christmas gifts.

December 22, 2017 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 17, 2017

More reporting suggesting Vermont will very soon enact a novel form of marijuana legalization via a not-so-novel means

6a00d8341bfae553ef01b8d2812d0c970c-320wiI explained in this post last week, "Could Vermont legalize marijuana by traditional legislation in just a matter of weeks?," how notable and valuable it could be, for policy-makers, citizens and researchers, to have a state embrace a distinctive approach to marijuana legalization through the traditional legislative law-making process.  As noted in posts link below, Vermont got very close but then failed to be a first in this arena back in May,  and thus I am not taking for granted that the state will make marijuana reform history in early January.  But this recent Forbes piece by Tom Angell continues to highlight why the Green Mountain State could kick of 2018 with a marijuana reform bang.   The piece is headlined "Vermont Will Legalize Marijuana Within Weeks, Officials Indicate," and here are excerpts: 

Vermont appears poised to become the next state to legalize marijuana. And, according to top elected officials, it is likely to do so within a matter of weeks.

Last week, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, a Democrat, said she expects "it likely will pass in early January.” Days earlier, Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, said he is "comfortable" signing a cannabis legalization bill into law in early 2018.

And on Thursday, Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe, a member of the Progressive Party, said he and his colleagues "look forward to working with the governor to make sure that that bill gets to the finish line."

If the tripartisan group of officials follows through and enacts legalization in early 2018, it would make Vermont the first state to end cannabis prohibition by an act of lawmakers. All eight states that have legalized marijuana so far have done so via ballot measures approved by voters....

In Vermont, which operates on a legislative biennium, the Senate has already passed the legalization bill. All that is required to get it to Scott's desk for signing into law is one more House floor vote, and that could happen any day after the legislature reconvenes on January 3.

In 2017, the state fell just short of ending marijuana prohibition. Both legislative chambers approved a legalization proposal, but Scott vetoed it. However, the governor then laid out a few small revisions he wanted legislators to make in order to garner his signature. The Senate quickly acted to make the requested changes, but the House wasn't able to overcome procedural hurdles to pass the revised bill in time during a short special session over the summer. The legislation remains on the House calendar, and can be approved with a simple majority under regular order next month.

Under the bill, Vermont’s approach to legalization would differ from the regulatory systems that exist in the other eight legalization states. That's because instead of allowing licensed stores where consumers could purchase marijuana, it would simply enact a noncommercial form of legalization where possessing small amounts of cannabis and growing a few plants at home would be legal. However, the Senate-approved legislation would create a commission to study possible future commercialization.

During the legislative recess, Scott used an executive order to proactively create a marijuana legalization study commission on his own, so there is a chance that the pending bill will be amended to remove its commission provisions before lawmakers vote on final passage. And that could potentially mean that it will take slightly more time than just one additional House floor vote. “Part of that bill is no longer needed,” Scott said this month, referring to the commission piece.

While saying that he has not yet “spoken to legislative leaders” about the language, he suggested lawmakers might want to “make some changes on the floor, send it back to committee, make some alterations and then we’ll see what they either add or delete and then we’ll see if it’s the same as what I committed to pushing forward with.” But accomplishing those changes likely would not take very long, advocates say, given the consensus between legislative leaders and Scott on getting legalization enacted that seemed to crystalize during the 2017 session....

Matt Simon, the New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, agreed, adding that success in Vermont will likely signal the start of a wave of legislative action on cannabis in other states. "Vermont now finds itself on the cusp of becoming the first state to legalize marijuana through its legislature," he said in an email. "The legislative process is slower than the [ballot] initiative process by its very nature, but this exciting development should bring hope to the millions of reform supporters who live in states that don't allow initiatives. I'm confident that other state legislatures will soon follow their lead."

A few prior related posts:

December 17, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Less encouraging new data from Monitoring the Future study concerning teenager marijuana use (but good news regarding other drugs)

In this post earlier this week, titled "Encouraging new data from National Survey on Drug Use and Health concerning teenager marijuana use," I noted my personal skepticism of contentions that teen marijuana use would go down in the wake of marijuana legalization. But, as detailed in that prior post, some new numbers from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health suggests this could be the reality in at least some legalization states for now.

But, as detailed in this new press release, headed "Marijuana Use Edges Upward," another set of new data does not tell a story quite so rosy with respect to use of marijuana by youngsters. Here are the basics:

Marijuana use among adolescents edged upward in 2017, the first significant increase in seven years.  Overall, past-year use of marijuana significantly increased by 1.3% to 24% in 2017 for 8th, 10th, and 12th graders combined.  Specifically, in 8th, 10th, and 12th grades the respective increases were 0.8% (to 10.1%), 1.6% (to 25.5%) and 1.5% (to 37.1%).  The increase is statistically significant when all three grades are combined.

“This increase has been expected by many” said Richard Miech, the Principal Investigator of the study. “Historically marijuana use has gone up as adolescents see less risk of harm in using it.  We’ve found that the risk adolescents see in marijuana use has been steadily going down for years to the point that it is now at the lowest level we’ve seen in four decades.”

The results come from the annual Monitoring the Future study, now in its 43rd year.  About 45,000 students in some 380 public and private secondary schools have been surveyed each year in this U.S. national study, designed and conducted by research scientists at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.  Students in grades 8, 10 and 12 are surveyed.

This increase in marijuana drove trends in any illicit drug use in the past year. In both 12th and 10th grade this measure increased (although the increase was not statistically significant), while use of any illicit drug use other than marijuana declined (although the decrease was not statistically significant). In 8th grade neither of these drug use measures significantly changed, although they both increased slightly.

As this blurb highlights, a decline in the use of other illicit drugs emerges from this 2017 data, and also "cigarette smoking by teens [for] all measures (lifetime, 30-day, daily, and half-pack/day) are at historic lows since first measured in all three grades in 1991." Though there is research to suggest an increase in marijuana use by teens is not a positive public health story, a reduction in the use of cigarettes and other illicit drugs certainly is. These stories may or may not be causally connected, but all these data reinforce for me how intricate (and perhaps conflicting) data may be about the impact of marijuana reforms on teen behaviors and public health.

Prior recent related post:

Encouraging new data from National Survey on Drug Use and Health concerning teenager marijuana use

 

December 14, 2017 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 11, 2017

New talk about a new marijuana legalization initiaitive in Ohio from some old voices

As reported in this local article, headlined "Anyone over 21 could grow weed at home under proposed Ohio ballot initiative," there is some new talk about a new initiative to legalize marijuana in the Buckeye State. Here are the details:

A group of local investors who failed in their bid to secure a state license to grow medical marijuana on Monday announced plans for a statewide ballot issue to fully legalize marijuana.

Jimmy Gould, chairman of Cincinnati-based Green Light Acquisitions, proposed an Ohio constitutional amendment that would allow anyone 21 or older to grow marijuana in their homes for personal use or commercial cultivation. Gould said the ballot issue would not conflict with Ohio's current medical marijuana law but would expand legalized marijuana use among qualified adults without a physician's recommendation.

Gould said he would need 305,592 signatures to place the issue before Ohio voters next year. His group plans to finalize the language in the proposal and begin circulating it next month. The initial filing deadline for the ballot proposal is July 4, 2018. Gould is a longtime proponent of decriminalizing marijuana, which he said can be a useful tool for dealing with a variety of chronic conditions, including the opioid addiction crisis that has plagued Ohio.

He co-founded the group ResponsibleOhio, which was behind Ohio's failed Issue 3 marijuana initiative in 2015 that would have legalized marijuana for both medical and non-medical use. The measure lost in all 88 Ohio counties, with nearly two-thirds of voters statewide voting "no" to recreational and medical marijuana.

But the new proposal "is as different from Issue 3 as night and day," Gould said. "We spent a lot of time and effort to get this right. This is not Issue 3 revisited.'' Gould said the new ballot proposal is a responsible way to fully legalize marijuana use, cultivation, possession, processing and dispensing, and regulate it like alcohol-related businesses in Ohio.

In addition, the new proposal tosses out many of the contentious items that Gould blames for Issue 3's ultimate defeat, including designating certain properties as the only places in Ohio where the cannabis plant could be legally grown. Critics charged the stipulation would have benefitted only a handful of mega-growers. "The concept of the rich getting richer goes right out the window with this," Gould said.

Gould said another reason he thinks now is the right time to introduce a new marijuana initiative is that "a lot of time has gone by" since Issue 3 was defeated, and more Americans are inclined to support legalized marijuana based on studies, opinion polls and the sheer number of states that have adopted such laws over the past several years....

Gould said his new ballot initiative would "run parallel" to a lawsuit he plans to file against the state after his firm, CannAscend Ohio, and dozens of other applicants were denied "Level 1" licenses for large-scale medical marijuana growers.

The Ohio Department of Commerce earlier this month awarded 12 preliminary Level 1 licenses based on what Gould alleges was a deeply flawed selection process and the use of questionable application graders, including one who was a convicted drug dealer. "That stuff is just not OK," Gould said. "Commerce feel asleep at the wheel. They either didn’t know, or they didn’t do background checks" on the application graders.

I am tempted to not take this new talk of a new initiative all that seriously because right now it seems a bit like the expression of sour grapes (sour weed?) based on the failure of Gould to get a state "Level 1" license. But Gould and his team were able to get a (poorly conceived) initiative to the voters back in 2015, and maybe they really want to and really can do it again in 2018.

December 11, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Could Vermont legalize marijuana by traditional legislation in just a matter of weeks?

6a00d8341bfae553ef01b8d2812d0c970c-320wiThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable new report from Tom Angell under the headline "Will Legalize Marijuana In Early January, House Speaker Says." Here are the details:

A top Vermont lawmaker says the state could become the first in the U.S. to legalize marijuana through an act of lawmakers early next year.  “It will be up for a vote in early January,” House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D) said on Friday. “I expect that it likely will pass in early January.”

In 2017, the state fell just short of enacting legalization. The legislature passed a bill to legalize personal cannabis possession and homegrow, but Gov. Phil Scott (R) vetoed it. However, in doing so, he laid out a few small changes he wanted legislators to make in order to win his support.  The Senate quickly acted to make the requested revisions, but the House was not able to jump through procedural hurdles to get it done in time during a short special session over the summer.

Because the legislature operates on a biennial basis, the bill is still alive, and the House just needs to take one more vote to get the bill onto the governor’s desk.  Last week, Scott said he is “comfortable” signing a marijuana legalization bill into law early next year.

Johnson, in the Friday interview with Vermont Public Radio, said there “hasn’t been a significant shift” in support in the legislature since the momentum for legalization that built up earlier this year. “We do have agreement with the governor and with the Senate on what that bill currently says,” she said....

Vermont’s approach would be different than the laws that exist in other states, in that it would enact a noncommercial form of legalization where only possessing small amounts of cannabis and growing a few plants at home would be legal. There would initially be no licensed stores where consumers could purchase marijuana, but the Senate-passed legislation would create a commission to study possible future commercialization....

Johnson, in the new interview, said the commission “will provide some suggestions for further action,” such as potentially legalizing and regulating cannabis sales. “We’ll be looking into further legislation to really go about this in as thoughtful and responsible a way as possible,” she said.

I was disappointed by the veto of the marijuana reform bill that Vermont's legislature passed last year in large part because I think it could be extremely valuable, to both policy-makers and researchers, to have a state embrace a distinctive approach to marijuana legalization. Now I am excited anew that this distinctive approach to marijuana legalization may still soon become law in the Green Mountain State.

In the article linked above, Tom Angell notes that marijuana reform advocates have been watching New Jersey closely as a state that might in early 2018 enacted marijuana legalization through the traditional legislative process. For various reasons, I think action in New Jersey becomes even more likely if Vermont becomes the first state to legalize through the usual legislative process.

A few prior related posts from May 2017:

"Vermont Legislature becomes first to approve legal marijuana"

Vermont Governor vetoes bill to legalize marijuana in state .... UPDATED with Gov's explanation for his veto

December 11, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)